by Austin Montoya, Social Media and Online Coordinator

Last week, CCHI attended the State of Enrollment Conference with Enroll America in Washington D.C.; the conference provided many opportunities to learn about the previous open enrollment period to sign up for health coverage in states across the country, as well as a chance to plan for the future. The conference was attended by key stakeholders, assistance network sites, insurers, and community advocates. Many fundamental themes emerged throughout the conference including ways to increase health insurance literacy, the importance and necessity of in-person assistance, and messaging strategies to communicate the ever-changing landscape of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to hard-to-reach populations.

“The rollout of the ACA is not a sprint, but a marathon,” President of Enroll America, Anne Filipic stated during a plenary session. “Some days you do sprints and other days you run up hills; you get better as time goes on.”

Indeed, like the first and second open enrollment period, the third open enrollment (OE3) holds new hills and other challenges that Colorado and the rest of the nation will have to navigate. More than 10 million people have received health coverage, thanks to the ACA; the uninsured rate among U.S. adults has declined to 10.1 percent and some are gaining coverage for the first time. However, with the decline in the uninsured, come harder challenges.

Health insurance literacy is still at an all time low. Confusing terms and language continue to baffle everyday individuals on how to gain and use their health insurance. An on-line survey done by Enroll America found that 14 percent of respondents accurately understood what a co-pay, deductible, or co-insurance was. Not knowing what is covered – such as preventive services – and what isn’t covered by their health plan causes many to put off getting the care they need.

A lack of understanding the complicated landscape of health care is also one of the reasons why having in-person assistance is so crucial. Assistance sites and Health Coverage Guides help consumers apply and find a health plan that meets their budgets and needs. Unfortunately, all across the U.S., assistance programs’ funding is being cut dramatically. In Colorado, the state-based marketplace, Connect for Health Colorado, as well as the Colorado Health Foundation are funding $3 million for assistance sites, a 60 percent reduction from this past year. Many guides must spend significant time with individuals to help them navigate their enrollment, and many sites find themselves stretched very thin. We must invest time and money in these sites to ensure we can shift some of the burden off the individual consumer and guarantee they can get the help they need.

In addition, Alison Betty of GMMB Communications and Michael Perry of PerryUndem Research and Communications found in surveys and focus groups conducted across the country that affordability is still a major barrier to receive coverage. Of those surveyed, 79 percent understand the value of – and want to have – health insurance, but believe it is too expensive.

Unaffordability stems from many problems. Unlike Colorado, many states chose not to expand Medicaid, which has left many in a gap (they make too little to qualify for financial assistance, but do not meet the specifications to go on Medicaid). Also, misinformation is still a major hurdle; many Americans do not know that financial assistance may be available, while others still don’t even know what the health insurance marketplace is. Clear, repetitive, and consistent messaging is critical to clear the smoke of misinformation.

Overall, OE3 has many of the same, and many different challenges ahead. Investing in increasing health insurance literacy and maintaining assistance sites is crucial to make sure individuals get covered and access care. Coloradans are known for working together, and this will be vital to ensure all consumers know and understand their health insurance options to enroll.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, stopped by the conference and said in reference to assistance sites, “Your work to help Americans enroll for health coverage is truly saving lives. Thank you.”

Want to see what else happened at the State of Enrollment Conference? Follow the hashtag #SOE2015 or @austin_montoya on Twitter.

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